The use of cytokines for immunotherapy shows clinical efficacy but is frequently accompanied by severe adverse events caused by excessive and systemic immune activation. Here, we set out to address these challenges by engineering a fusion protein of a single, potency-reduced, IL15 mutein and a PD1-specific antibody (anti-PD1-IL15m). This immunocytokine was designed to deliver PD1-mediated, avidity-driven IL2/15 receptor stimulation to PD1+ tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) while minimally affecting circulating peripheral natural killer (NK) cells and T cells. Treatment of tumor-bearing mice with a mouse cross-reactive fusion, anti-mPD1–IL15m, demonstrated potent antitumor efficacy without exacerbating body weight loss in B16 and MC38 syngeneic tumor models. Moreover, anti-mPD1–IL15m was more efficacious than an IL15 superagonist, an anti-mPD-1, or the combination thereof in the B16 melanoma model. Mechanistically, anti-PD1–IL15m preferentially targeted CD8+ TILs and single-cell RNA-sequencing analyses revealed that anti-mPD1–IL15m treatment induced the expansion of an exhausted CD8+ TIL cluster with high proliferative capacity and effector-like signatures. Antitumor efficacy of anti-mPD1–IL15m was dependent on CD8+ T cells, as depletion of CD8+ cells resulted in the loss of antitumor activity, whereas depletion of NK cells had little impact on efficacy. The impact of anti-hPD1–IL15m on primary human TILs from patients with cancer was also evaluated. Anti-hPD1–IL15m robustly enhanced the proliferation, activation, and cytotoxicity of CD8+ and CD4+ TILs from human primary cancers in vitro, whereas tumor-derived regulatory T cells were largely unaffected. Taken together, our findings showed that anti-PD1–IL15m exhibits a high translational promise with improved efficacy and safety of IL15 for cancer immunotherapy via targeting PD1+ TILs.

See related Spotlight by Felices and Miller, p. 1110.

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